Ind. Church Awaits Federal Seizure
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Hundreds of parishioners whose church was ordered seized in a $6 million dispute with the IRS prayed and wept Tuesday as they awaited the arrival of federal marshals.
Experts believe the U.S. government has never before seized a church in a dispute over taxes.
Singing ``Faith of our Fathers,″ members and supporters of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple worshipped for what they believed would be the last time inside the church. A noon deadline for the independent Baptist congregation to vacate its property passed without any sign of marshals.
``They can take our church. They cannot take our convictions,″ the church’s pastor, the Rev. Greg A. Dixon, said from the pulpit to applause and shouts of ``Amen!″
Dixon and his father, the Rev. Greg J. Dixon, who was pastor of the church for 41 years, have been locked in a 16-year dispute with the government in which they have questioned the authority of the IRS.
The church, with a 1,000-member congregation, stopped withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from the paychecks of its employees in 1984. Church officials said that their duty to obey God prevailed over manmade laws, and that withholding taxes would make the church an agent of the government. The younger Dixon said the employees have paid their own taxes.
On Sept. 28, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker ordered the surrender of the church, its school and parsonages to satisfy a lien of $6 million in back taxes, penalties and interest. The buildings could then be auctioned off.
On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson would not say when the seizure would take place. He said only that the Marshals Service wants to ``do it as quickly as we can.″
``We do not want to jeopardize the safety of any of the members involved,″ Anderson said. ``We don’t want any type of confrontation. We want to resolve this in a peaceful manner.″
Early Tuesday afternoon, Anderson said marshals seized a parsonage a few miles from the church where the elder Dixon had lived for years.
``It was secured and we turned it over to the court-appointed receivers. It’s in their hands now,″ he said, adding that he could not discuss when his agents plan to seize the church and other property.
The elder Dixon, who learned from a television broadcast of the parsonage’s seizure, had anticipated the marshals’ action and moved into his son’s home the night before.
``He stayed at our home for the first 20 years and I guess we’ll be staying at his home for the last 20 years,″ he said.
More than 400 people, some from other faiths and some from as far away as Texas, began a prayer vigil one hour before the deadline. One woman openly wept from her red, theater-style seat inside the sanctuary.
The church was stripped of hymnals, icons and religious paintings in anticipation of the seizure. Only seats and the pulpit remained in the sanctuary.
Some people were worried about the possibility of violence after right-wing militia groups pledged to defend the church, but there were no immediate signs of any guns.
Dixon’s support among members of the congregation remained strong despite the IRS fight.
Bill Chaney, 78, a retired bus and truck driver from Southport, arrived by 9 a.m. with his wife. The couple had married there in February.
``I think we’ll stay with him all the way,″ said Bill Chaney, wearing a jacket that identified him as a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.
Inside the church, slogans on banners proclaimed, ``Judge Sarah Evans Barker, God will not be mocked″ and ``Father, have mercy on them,″ followed by the names of William Rehnquist and John Paul Stevens. The two U.S. Supreme Court justices in recent days had denied the Baptist Temple’s request for a stay.
The congregation plans to hold services on Sunday at a high school.
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